[Repost] Self-Care is not a Transaction

Jessica McQuistin is a Branches community member and one of our regular front desk work trades, and she is also an avid blogger. We loved her recent reflections on self-care and wanted to shout it from the rooftops by sharing it over here on our blog. Read more of Jessica’s posts about mindfulness, motherhood and sustainability on her blog.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that self-care is not a transaction. I am not a machine that produces a specific output based on a specific input. Or a car that consistently runs smoother after an oil change. Or a recipe turns out the same every time as long as you use the right ingredients. No…Being human is much more complex and unpredictable.

When I forget this, I say things to myself like,

  • You just took an hour for yourself. Why aren’t you feeling refreshed?
  • You yelled at the kids again. All that meditation is obviously not working!
  • You got a good sleep last night; so why are you so tired?
  • You’ve decided to do some baking. And you love baking. Why aren’t you enjoying yourself right now?
  • I took you out for lunch as a special treat. Why aren’t you happy and grateful? What a waste of money.

When I go down this path, I can easily conclude that self-care is not worth the time, energy, money, or effort so maybe I just shouldn’t bother. But I know this isn’t true. Yet, I often find myself expecting to be magically transformed into a calm, happy, generous, grateful, energetic being after spending any ounce of time on self-care.

I’d really like to change these expectations. As an exercise in self-compassion, I’m going to replace these statements with kinder, more empathetic responses.

Old StatementNew Statement
You just took an hour for yourself. Why aren’t you feeling refreshed?You just took an hour for yourself despite feeling some “mom guilt” and yet, you’re not feeling refreshed. That’s disappointing. Maybe you’re a little burnt out right now and an hour wasn’t quite long enough for you to feel better.
You yelled at the kids again. All that meditation is obviously not working!You’ve been trying not to yell at the kids lately, and you’ve been meditating as a way of becoming less reactive. (Way to go!) Yet, despite all these efforts, you lost it and yelled. Making mistakes and noticing them is part of changing any behaviour. Keep at it and remember that you’re human. Apologize for yelling and move on.
You got a good sleep last night; so why are you so tired?You prioritized getting a good sleep last night and that’s great! Unfortunately, you don’t feel as well-rested as you expected today. Maybe you need a few more good sleeps to catch up or maybe it’s just a low-energy day and that’s okay.
You’ve decided to do some baking. And you love baking. Why aren’t you enjoying yourself right now?You usually enjoy baking but your heart’s just not in it today. Maybe you don’t have the energy for it or maybe you’d rather be out of the house than in the kitchen. Oh well! Finish what you’ve started, then move on to something you feel like doing.
I took you out for lunch as a special treat. Why aren’t you happy and grateful? What a waste of money.Hmmm…Going out for lunch usually feels like a really special treat but today it didn’t boost your mood at all. It’s still okay that you went out for lunch though.

Noticing some themes, I’ve also come up with some general reminders about self-care that I’d like to keep in mind:

  • What works sometimes doesn’t work other times.
  • I don’t always know exactly what I need. It’s okay to try something even if it doesn’t have the result I was expecting. It’s still worth trying.
  • Sometimes I need to do a lot to feel good, other times I need very little. These fluctuations are normal for me.
  • I am worthy of self-care even when I don’t emerge “better” afterward.

What attitudes or beliefs do you carry around self-care? Are there any that you’d like to challenge? This week, I invite you to listen to how you talk to yourself about self-care and just notice what comes up.

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